The personal lines industry may be viewed through multiple competitive prisms. These include the classic independent agent versus direct writer perspective; independent and exclusive agents versus the banks, and independents, exclusives and banks versus the direct marketers. There is also another viewpoint that’s worth considering: traditional insurance offices versus sellers that operate without interpersonal contact.
Less than a decade ago, it was commonly expected that most personal insurance would be marketed, sold and serviced via the Internet. Although aspects of this have evolved, viruses, spam, phishing, pharming and the e-commerce stock crash have since altered the flow of insurance marketing. Its future has retreated from the online-only approach to a combination methodology that includes media ads, inserts, direct mail, banner ads, opt-in e-mail, plus instant Web quotes. This marketer usually touts price as its primary advantage and dismisses the importance of face-to-face contact.
Yet, most auto and home insurance buyers still prefer to deal with an operation that maintains a local office that they can visit when they need to. Even so, most people prefer to spend as little time as possible talking to, much less entering the physical domain of their insurance agent. Once their policies are written, consumers stop by mainly to deal with problems or to pay a bill. These negative, but necessary, reasons tend to make visiting an agency a less than enjoyable encounter.
To offset this ill effect, invite personal lines insureds to the office for a series of special events. Focus each get-together on better informing clientele and strengthening the overall relationship. When considering event ideas to develop, capitalize on the advantages of maintaining an accessible workplace. Your physical presence and proximity differentiates you from the Internet and direct mail marketers. Here are nine ideas to get started.
Policy organization sessions. The flood of insurance paperwork that’s generated over the course of a few years can overwhelm any insured. So offer to help your auto and home clients deal with this messy issue by inviting them to attend a short series of organizational sessions. Request that attendees who stop by your office bring all of their insurance papers with them, regardless of who writes the policy. Staffers can then assist insureds in discarding outdated policies and bills, and organize the contracts that are current. Your insureds benefit from a helpful house cleaning, and your agency gets the rare opportunity to eyeball any policies that you don’t yet write.
Free appraisals. Invite your clients to stop by your office on a Saturday, once every six months, for a free jewelry (or antique) appraisal. Most jewelry records in your files are either old purchase receipts or outdated appraisals. Your clients will appreciate the opportunity to get an objective third-party statement of current value. The jeweler benefits from the resulting publicity and may not bill you for his time, or charge you a reduced fee.
Underinsured clients requesting higher jewelry limits on existing policies will generate a few new commissions, but most importantly, you’ll discover which of your clients own previously under-or-uninsured valuables. Some of these asset-laden insureds develop into excellent candidates for the more profitable arena of financial planning.
Insurance impact seminars for teen drivers. Most teenagers fail to realize how getting their license impacts the family’s car insurance rates. Furthermore, they rarely recognize the financial costs that result from receiving even a minor ticket or being involved in a small accident. Insureds with a young driver will be grateful to you for conducting a brief evening seminar that reveals the fiscal realities of driving and insurance to their kids. An effective demonstration is to sit a teen in front of your rating software and let them key-in a few what-ifs. Have them compare a teen’s clean record rate versus one with just a single ticket or accident. As a side benefit, your office enjoys an enhanced loss ratio, along with the family’s good will.
Defensive driver courses. A number of states allow driving classes to be sponsored by insurance agencies. If this opportunity is available in yours, consider conducting these sessions in your office, evenings or weekends. Insureds who attend benefit by getting points taken off their license and by saving 10 percent on their basic auto premiums for three years. Participating clients appreciate the agency’s proactive approach to saving them real money, erasing their points, and at least theoretically, improving their driving skills. Agency-run classes also attract new prospects and a small income from any tuition that you are permitted to charge.
Home safety seminars. Personal lines clients, unlike their commercial counterparts, seldom receive any loss control services. So here’s a great chance to help out. Present a claims prevention seminar for clients, right in your own office. It’s easy. Just ask the local police and fire departments to send speakers on such subjects as burglar-proofing a home and fire safety. Then follow up by offering policy credits for homeowners who install alarms, deadbolts, fire extinguishers, and smoke detectors after the seminar. Your clients, community, carriers, and loss ratio will all benefit.
Office parties. A new or updated office, a recent merger or acquisition, or a landmark anniversary is a terrific reason to throw a couple of office parties. The first celebration is for your top clients and insurance company personnel; the second is for your rank-and-file insureds. After all, there’s usually plenty of food left over for another party. Just don’t tell the second group that the first event ever took place!
Financial fair. An alternative to the traditional office party is to hold a fun financial fair. Playing on the theme, hold the event on a weekend, outside, in your parking lot or lawn. Rent a colorful party tent. Encourage your young clients and prospects to bring their kids. Try to have things for the whole family to enjoy. Offer pony rides, a petting zoo (made up of employee pets), face-painting, fortune-telling, caricatures, popcorn, hot dogs, etc. Serve soda and bottled water, but no alcohol. Make your invitation look like a free pass to the fair instead of a formal party invite.
The marketing part: Intersperse insurance booths between the activities. Some ideas: A jeweler that you insure sets up a table for your guests to get free jewelry cleanings and appraisals [see #2 above]. Your life agent displays signage that encourages guests to grab a free term life quote or inquire about college savings plans. It might be fun to set this booth next to the fortune-teller who entertainingly “foresees” a quick visit to the financial planner. Set up a PC with home estimator software for people to calculate the replacement value of their own homes. Put out an umbrella table where, naturally, you’ll give out instant $1 million umbrella quotes. Also offer rapid auto and homeowners quotes at other tables. Staff each booth with personal lines CSRs and producers.
Free financial planning, retirement and college-funding seminars. The radio waves and newspapers are jam-packed with ads for these sessions; so there’s clearly interest in them. You can provide similar sessions at your office, featuring experts from one or more of the life companies that you represent. These meetings are more than a way of enticing people to your premises; they are also a defense against other insurance and investment professionals doing business with your clientele.
Software training. Offer free Saturday training classes for agency clients who want to learn more about the software that your people use every day. Have CSRs and producers run the sessions. Titles worth teaching might include Microsoft Excel, Word, and Outlook. You can even help visiting personal lines clients to design and post their own personal home page. Let “students” use the PCs that are on each CSR’s desk in their training; just lock them out of your management system and other confidential areas.
The resulting buzz generated by these events builds more than good will and positive word-of-mouth. They also create a favorable impression of your firm’s role in the community and in the lives of your insureds. This is particularly valuable when your agency needs a serious image upgrade. The resulting rewards are multi-faceted and include greater client satisfaction, increased policy retention, and the identification of potential leads for future sales. There is also the advantage of differentiation; distinguishing your firm from other local insurance offices and the latest iteration of direct marketer. In an era where personal lines marketing is seldom performed face-to-face, agencies that properly employ just a few of these ideas can truly stand out.
Alan Shulman, CPCU, is the publisher of
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